York & North Yorkshire

Murder of Melsonby postmistress Diana Garbutt

Diana and Robin Garbutt
Image caption Diana Garbutt had told her husband about an "intimate encounter", the jury was told

For nearly seven years, Melsonby post office and shop - and the couple who ran it - were central to the village.

Robin and Diana Garbutt had moved to the quiet community from York in 2003 to take over the business.

Mrs Garbutt trained as a postmistress but it was her husband who ran the branch, working long hours and building close relationships with customers.

But tragedy struck in March 2010 when Diana Garbutt was killed in the upstairs living area of the premises.

In a 999 call, Robin Garbutt said his wife had been attacked and begged for assistance and advice about what to do.

When ambulance crews arrived they found Mrs Garbutt lying dead in her bed having suffered three blows to her head.

Her 45-year-old husband told police Mrs Garbutt had been killed by an armed robber.

Media spotlight

He said the robber forced him to open the safe some time after 0830 GMT and then he went upstairs and found his wife had been attacked.

The village was catapulted into the media spotlight as police started a hunt for her killer.

Underwater search teams scoured the area and villagers' bin collections were suspended as evidence was sought.

Speaking at the time, Det Supt Lewis Raw, senior investigating officer, said: "The tragic death of Diana Garbutt has had a significant impact on people living in Melsonby and Richmondshire as a whole.

"It has also captured the concern and sympathy of the wider community due to the high level of media coverage of this case."

At a news conference Mrs Garbutt's mother, Agnes Gaylor, appealed for help, stating that the killer had destroyed her life as well as her daughter's.

She described Mrs Garbutt as an "amazing girl" with a "wicked sense of humour", adding: "She was content, she loved her life. She didn't deserve to be taken like this."

Three weeks later, on 14 April, the police investigation took a turn closer to home with the arrest of Garbutt. Two days later he was charged with murder.

Flaws were found in Garbutt's version of events.

Could everything that he described really have taken place in the space of two minutes, from 0835 GMT when the safe was opened to 0837 GMT, when he made his 999 call?

Couple in debt

No-one in the village reported seeing anything suspicious take place on the morning of the alleged armed robbery.

The pathologist also found Mrs Garbutt must have died much earlier than her husband had claimed.

The police investigation found that far from being a happily-married, financially-secure couple, the Garbutts were in a mess.

They were deeply in debt and probably living off post office money.

During the trial, Teesside Crown Court was told Mrs Garbutt had been unfaithful and up until the night she died she had been logging on to an internet dating site.

It was this pressure, tension and ill feeling, said the prosecution, that caused Garbutt to erupt in extreme violence and kill his wife, hitting her over the head with a metal rod.

A jury accepted this version of events and found Garbutt guilty of murder.

Now the future of the post office remains uncertain and the murder of Mrs Garbutt not forgotten by villagers.

Melsonby resident Neil Jones said: "A lot of villagers have been upset by it... I knew Robin and it's a difficult one because it's something that's just so alien.

"You don't expect anything like that happening on your doorstep."

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